Games for the brain (or brain-training exercises) may help about people who have had had bothersome ringing in the ears, tinnitus, for at least six months.
The sound you hear might be a buzz, whistle, click, or ring; and it might be continuous or come in spells. After a while, you know not to look for the source of the sound. Other people can’t hear it at all — it’s coming from your own brain.
About 10 percent of American adults have tinnitus, often called ringing in the ears, in any given year, and about a third of them never have relief, according to a 2016 review of existing data. The problem is more common among firefighters and other people exposed to loud sounds, and for some — about 7 percent — tinnitus can be serious. Scientists generally agree that tinnitus is caused by an error in the parts of the brain that process sound, sometimes traceable to a disease as well as noise pollution.
How to get rid of tinnitus
The available remedies don’t stop the sound but can help you live with it more easily. Among all of them, a 2016 review concluded, the strongest evidence supported cognitive behavioral therapy specifically tailored for tinnitus. About 45 percent of tinnitus patients have suffered from an anxiety disorder during their lives, and cognitive behavioral therapy might help by reducing that anxiety.
However, something else may be the main cause: people with tinnitus also tend to have slower processing speeds and reaction times and problems in focusing, much research suggests. In a 2012 paper, a research group at Washington University in St. Louis compared the severity of tinnitus to a measure of auditory processing speed in 92 tinnitus patients. The group also tested the volunteers for signs of anxiety or depression. Both slow processing speed and the psychological symptoms each, separately, predicted the severity of tinnitus.
If you have tinnitus and you don’t feel anxious but do think you might be “slow” (which is not at all the same as stupid), you might consider games for the brain (brain-training exercises). In a 2017 report the Washington University team concluded that a specific set of games for the brain helped about half of a group of patients who had had bothersome tinnitus for at least six months.
The program took effort: Twenty volunteers spent an hour a day on the exercises, five days a week, for eight weeks. Another 20 served as the control group and didn’t do the exercises. The researchers did brain scans and tested the volunteers at the beginning and end of the experiment.
Seven of the people who did the set of games for the brain showed measurable improvement in their tinnitus, and 10 thought that they had improved. In the brain scans, the researchers found that the volunteers who had done the brain teasers showed significant improvement in parts of the brains tied to attention.
How to exercise your brain
If you want to try, games for the brain are available with a subscription at brainhq.com. Look for descriptions of Sound Sweeps (try it for free) Fine Tuning, Syllable Stacks, Memory Grid, In The Know, To-Do List Training, and Hear-Hear.
Looking separately at each of the other common therapies for tinnitus — masking devices, transcranial magnetic stimulation, wearing hearing aids, or taking zinc — the prestigious Cochrane group found insufficient evidence for a recommendation, if any at all. The group was more positive about cognitive behavioral therapy.
When it comes to hearing aids, if you have hearing loss, being able to hear better in more situations is essential for many other reasons and shouldn’t make your tinnitus worse. Talk to an ear, eye, nose and throat doctor about your options.
March 20, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN